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Hi everyone, Mark Iype in Edmonton today.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has been clear from the time she made her return to Alberta’s political stage in the fall of 2022 how she felt about COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, vaccine recommendations and the science behind the decision-making.

After all, it was her skepticism of how the pandemic was handled that helped guide her to victory as the United Conservative Party worked to oust her predecessor Jason Kenney.

So, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that The Globe’s Alanna Smith and Carrie Tait revealed the existence of a COVID task force created by the Premier to explore whether the “right data” was collected to inform pandemic decisions by Alberta Health Services and other health organizations.

And on Tuesday, the Premier defended both the creation of the little-known task force and the members of the team led by Dr. Gary Davidson, former chief of emergency medicine at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and a one-time UCP nomination candidate. Davidson, at the height of the pandemic when hospitals were still overrun with patients, claimed that the government had overblown the COVID-19 crisis, an assertion AHS quickly rebuked.

Citing “unexplained deaths” and social media rumours, Smith on Tuesday said she wanted a task force that would look at a “full range” of scientific views to provide recommendations on how to better manage future pandemics.

“There are a couple of concerns that I have about the number of unexplained deaths. I wanted to know what was behind that,” she said. “There’s also all kinds of rumours on Twitter, and accounts people were making on Twitter, I needed to see whether or not there was any concern about myocarditis, pericarditis, blood clots. We’ve all read that there are concerns about that.”

Davidson was asked to chair the task force about a year ago because according to Smith, he had voiced concerns about the way in which Alberta analyzed some of its COVID-19 data.

“I needed somebody who was going to look at everything that happened with some fresh eyes and maybe with a little bit of a contrarian perspective, because we’ve only ever been given one perspective for the last number of years,” she said. “I wanted him to be able to consult widely, bring in people who had been shouted down in the public sphere, as well as those who supported the approach that was taken.”

While the task force was created with the intention of having 10 members, as of now, Davidson is joined by just two other health professionals who have both expressed opinions counter to mainstream medical consensus around vaccines, public-health restrictions and other facets of the pandemic. Others, including some with more traditional views about the science of the pandemic, left the panel not long after joining.

The task force, given a $2-million budget, is expected to present its findings next month and the Premier says they will be made public. The group is not to be confused with the $2-million COVID-19 review panel, chaired by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, who in his final report released last November, recommended government officials consider “alternative scientific narratives.”

This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief Mark Iype. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.

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